I was awake ridiculously early this morning (like 4 am), and was caught short by the news of the FAA ground stop and landing order for air traffic in the western U.S. yesterday in hair trigger response to a North Korean test launch of a hypersonic missile. The FAA’s statement left things pretty vague as to why. I note the mainstream media caught up with this unusual story today, but as usual offer superficial accounts.

The ground stop and landing order (similar to the landing order of 9/11) only lasted a few minutes and was quickly cancelled, but I am wondering about the linkages and protocols between NORAD and the FAA’s air traffic control system. It doesn’t seem there was much time lapse. Maybe this is just part of the post-9/11 world. But I also wonder if there is something we aren’t being told. Why would the government order a total ground stop and landing order for the west coast in response to a single missile launch? I can think of a few plausible reasons, but I can also think of some others that are less reassuring.

The greatest threat to the U.S. from a pipsqueak country like North Korea (or Iran) is not a substantial nuclear attack, but an EMP (electro-magnetic pulse) explosion in high altitude over or near the U.S., which would incapacitate civilian aircraft along with much else. (Anyone think California’s antiquated and poorly maintained electricity grid, which keeps setting the state on fire, is protected against an EMP blast?) Hypersonic missile technology makes this threat more menacing. Accuracy is not much of a problem with an EMP attack. Is our government worried about this possibility to the extent that they order air traffic ground stops on a single launch warning?

Of course, if the government were candid about this risk, there would be pressure for higher defense spending, and less for solar panels and windmills while we harden our electricity and communications grid. Can’t have that.

(I suspect some of our excellent readers may have some insight or knowledge about this question. That’s what the comment thread is for.)

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